The current Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, is heading his second cabinet. Whereas the first Verhofstadt government was very popular, the second is widely seen, or at least reported, as scandal-ridden and ineffectual. The government seems headed towards defeat.
The Belgian coalition is often called 'purple'; a combination of liberals (blue) and socialists/social-democrats (red). In the case of Belgium, these are four parties, one liberal and one socialist/social-democrat party each for the Walloons and the Flemings.
The main opposition party in both Flanders and Wallonia are the Christian Democrats, also two separate parties. Other current opposition parties include the Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang, the Walloon greens Ecolo, a very small Neonazi Walloon party and a splinter Flemish separatist party, allied to the Christian Democrats.
There will be elections for two houses of parliament: the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate. The Senate is the less important chamber, it can be compared to the Dutch 1st chamber or the British chamber of lords in its role, and its makeup is a mix of directly and indirectly elected senators, plus the three mature children of the King.
The elections for the House of Representatives are the main story. The house of representatives has 150 members, who are divided along the two different 'language groups'. Currently 88 belong to the Dutch group, and 62 to the French group. But it does not need to stay that way!
The Belgian electoral system for the House of Representatives could be described as district-based proportional representation.
There are 11 electoral districts (nl), ranging in seats from 4 to 24. There is a general threshold of 5%, but, obviously, in a 4 seat district with proportional representation, a party needs to get at least 25%(1). On the other hand, small parties can evade the 5% hurdle in the bigger districts by making a 'list connection' to a big party.
Of the 150 seats, 79 are in Flemish districts, 49 are in Walloon districts, and 22 are in the mixed district Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorden.(2) B-H-V currently breaks as 9 Flemish and 13 Walloon, but it is possible for one or two seats to shift either way.
Belgians are obliged by law (nl) to go to the polls, and are given fines if they don't go without good reason, but they do have the opportunity to cast a blank vote.
As you'll understand, in this kind of district-based system, polls of voting intentions are rather difficult to interpret. The most recent poll breaks down the Flemish-speaking community, the French-speaking community in Brussels, and the French-speaking community outside Brussels. Which brings us a bit closer. But in order to know what's really going to happen you'd need to know what the polls are in each individual district.
The parties & the polls
Guy Verhofstadt's Open VLD is a left-liberal party roughly on the same political spot as Britain's LibDem party, or the left wing of the Democratic party in the US. Aside of being too much of a federalist on the EU level, I have great admiration for Verhofstadt's politics as he has been instrumental in leading and keeping his party to this political profile instead of going rightward. But after not being able to govern effectively in his second term as PM, openVLD is set to lose 7 percentage points across the Flemish area, going from 24% to 17%.
Open VLD's counterpart in Wallonia is the MR, also a liberal party which the wiki places a bit more on the right, but moving leftward. MR is polling at 26% in Wallonia, from 28%, and is polling at 27% in Brussels.(3)
The Flemish social-democrats SP.a - SPIRIT also suffer from participation in the current government, going from 25% to around 20% of the Flemish-speaking vote. The Walloon PS also looks like it will suffer from the elections. Plagued by scandals and corruption, the party will drop from 36% to 31% in Wallonia. In Brussels, the party is polling at 25%.
The Christian Democrat oppostion, on the other hand, is on the rise. Currently, the CD&V - NVA list is polling at around 30% among the Flemish, an increase of 4 percentage points. The Walloon cdH also registers a 4 percentage point increase in the polls, going to 19.3%
The far-right can expect gains as well. Vlaams Belang is expected to go from 18% to 21.6%, and the neonazi FN would get 8.1% in Wallonia. With regard to the Vlaams Belang, it is noted in the press that this is a decrease with regard to the regional elections in 2004, when the party got 24% of the vote. But I don't know if this should be soothing. It will still mark an increase in the influence of the party.
There is some silver lining in the rise of the green parties. Groen!, the Flemish green party, is set to re-enter parliament as it is polling around 7.4%. Its Walloon counterpart, Ecolo, is polling at 9.7%, up from its previous result of 7.5%. I can't completely assess the readiness of the greens to participate in government, but if coalition negotiations after the elections come to a stalemate, they might become the key to getting a government together, as the far-right continues to be quarantined.
Putting the nationwide polls into district seat numbers, which, as described above, is fraught with all kinds of peril, the current coalition parties will by my call go from 98 to 75 seats (36 to the liberals and 39 to the socialists/social dems), one short of a majority. The Christian Democrats will jump from 28 to 41 seats and, being the largest party combined, will have a strong mandate to start forming a coalition. Ideologically, the most likely coalition will be Christian Democrats/Liberals, which would have a narrow 3 seat majority.
Add another centre-right government to the European mix?
(1) More or less, depending upon the distribution of 'rest seats' which is according to the D'Hondt method.
(2) One Flemish district of 7 seats and one Walloon district of 5 seats are also officially bilingual. But these will probably remain entirely monolingual, looking at the nation-wide poll numbers.
(3) Polling data for Brussels are among the French-speaking community there.